The Mark Blog

Drinks with Dorothy

Sometimes, late at night when I am trying to fall asleep, I pretend I am having a conversation with Dorothy Parker about writing. She seemed to have the answers for everything.

ME: Dotty, I want to talk about writing. Here’s your martini.

DOTTY: I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host. As for writing, I hate writing, I love having written.

ME: But you’re good at it.

DOTTY: You know what I told Benchley when a writer asked him for advice? "If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy."

ME: I guess I don’t want to be happy. I want to be a good writer. So, can I ask you a question?

DOTTY: Constant use had not worn ragged the fabric of their friendship. Spill it.

ME: I am not feeling good about my novel. Have you ever felt that way?

DOTTY: When have I not felt that way? But as I always say, if you're going to write, don't pretend to write down. It's going to be the best you can do, and it's the fact that it's the best you can do that kills you.

ME: Not very uplifting.

DOTTY: I shall stay the way I am because I don’t give a damn. Be honest, is it the novel you're worried about or yourself as a writer?

ME: You know, I doubt if I can make this novel work.

DOTTY: Four be the things I'd have been better without: love, curiosity, freckles and doubt. But seriously, after I read my first attempt at a novel, I thought to myself, "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force." It’s normal to feel that way. I mean, this novel wasn’t just bad, it was terrible, and it wasn't just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it. What’s it about?

ME: A well-known writer in the 1930s who lives in Manhattan. And she’s a lesbian, but only a few people know it. She wants to write a lesbian novel, but her lover and agent don’t want her to because the public thinks lesbians are social deviants.

DOTTY: Let me tell you something, heterosexuality is not normal, it's just common.

ME: Good one! Kind of my point. But I don’t know if I can write it well enough. Tell an honest story.

DOTTY: You just have to tell it the best way you can. You don’t want to end up like that poor sucker Flaubert rolling around on his floor for three days looking for the right word. There are times when images blow to fluff, and comparisons stiffen and shrivel.

ME: I have already done the Flaubert thing. Is all that worrying worth it?

DOTTY: Sometimes I think I'll give up trying, and just go completely Russian and sit on a stove and moan all day. But I don't give up; I forget why not. Then I realize all I have to be thankful for in this world is that I was sitting down when my garter busted.

ME: I guess you’re right. I mean, if I wore garters. But I can get really down about writing. I mean, really depressed.

DOTTY: You think You're frightening me with Your hell, don't You? You think Your hell is worse than mine.

ME: No, no! Here, let me get you a drink.

DOTTY: I'd rather have an empty bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

ME: I hear ya. Did you ever feel good about your writing?

DOTTY: I never felt good about anything, but there's life for you. Spend the best years of your life studying penmanship and rhetoric and syntax and Beowulf and George Eliot, and then somebody steals your pencil.

ME: Did you rewrite a lot?

DOTTY: When it comes to rewriting, I know one thing about myself: I can’t write five words but that I change seven.

ME: I see. But surely you must have one good thing to tell me about writing?

DOTTY: Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.

ME: That about sums it up, doesn’t it? Thanks, Dotty. I will ring you again soon.

DOTTY: Remember, take care of the luxuries and the necessities will take care of themselves.

ME: You’re right. Writing is a luxury. Watch your step!